Elderberry Syrup, which may or may not cure that change-of-seasons cough

I owe you all a handful of recipes that I planned over the summer, but then before I finished tweaking them, busy season at work happened, and now here we are at the change of the seasons and I’m thinking more about immune boosters than about the strawberry shortcake recipe* I haven’t typed up yet. At the moment, my stove has elderberry syrup and apple butter simmering on it, and carved apple heads are dehydrating in the over in preparation for Halloween. Autumn.

I won’t go into whether or not elderberry syrup actually makes colds and coughs stay away, or get better faster. There’s a fair amount of vitamin C and other good stuff in it, so it might. Or it might just make me feel better. I’m a strong believer in home remedies that are comforting, whether or not they’re provable cures. Bonus: elderberry syrup tastes good.

Elderberry Syrup

  • 3 cups water
  • 2/3 cup dried elderberries**
  • 1 – 2 cinnamon sticks, broken
  • ~1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1 – 2 inch piece fresh ginger, chopped roughly
  • 1 cup raw, local honey

Place all ingredients except honey in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, covered, for 45 minutes to an hour. Remove from heat, mash the berries slightly, and let stand and cool until lukewarm. Strain. Stir in honey. Store in pourable jar in refrigerator.

Dose : ~1tsp per day for kids, ~1Tbsp per day for adults as a preventative. Same amounts every few hours when colds or flu strike. Take by the spoonful or drink in sparkling water or warm water, or mix it in yogurt, or basically whatever you like***. You’ll get more of the possible magic of the raw honey if you don’t add it to anything boiling, however, so let tea cool a bit if you’re adding the syrup to that.

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*It’s a really good recipe. I’ll post it someday for reals.

**I get mine in bulk at a local natural foods store. They’re also generally available online.

***White wine and brandy both work well for a more adult cureall.

In Praise of Lemon Curd (Mom – You’ll Want to Skip this One)

lemon tart with a rim of blueberries on a glass plate,

I adore lemon curd. It’s gorgeous and delicious and elegant in its simplicity. It is also amazingly calorie dense, basically made of the magic of egg yolks, butter, and sugar with a little bit of citrus to brighten things up. There is no reasonable way to make a “light” lemon curd. One accepts it for what it is. Did I mention delicious? simple? bright? It’s one of my favorite things.

lemon curd

  • 3 eggs
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 4 1/4 oz (3/4 cup) sugar
  • juice of three lemons
  • peel of three lemons
  • 4 1/2 oz (9 Tbsp) unsalted butter

Combine everything in a heavy saucepan, 2qts or more. Have a spatula and bowl (or jar or other container) nearby to transfer the finished curd to. If you also have a fine mesh strainer that fits over your container, all the better.

Cook over medium to medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until thick. (You want ribbon stage here, when you lift the whisk and let the curd drop back into the pan, it should form a ribbon on the surface before sinking back in.) Immediately take it off heat and push through a strainer into a container. (You can skip the straining if you’re not feeling fancy or picky, but it will get out any inadvertent bits of slightly overcooked egg.) 

Spread in a pre-baked tart shell and bake ~5 minutes at ~375ºF to firm up. Or spread on waffles. Or eat with a spoon. Or on scones. Or… (Lemon curd will also keep in the fridge for a week or two.)

 

Super Soup

It’s Spring, but around here there’s still snow on the ground and we just entered the dark times between when the winter farmers’ market closes and the growing season farmers’ market begins. That means when I discovered this morning that I still have three quarts of this soup in the freezer, I was super happy.

I wrote about this briefly last year, but didn’t post the recipe, so here it is:

Super Soup*, adapted from Anna Thomas’ Green Soup

makes 6-8 qts – enough to freeze, scale down if you’re just making dinner

  • 6 qts chicken stock (unsalted, ideally home made)
  • 3 bunches spinach or chard, trimmed and chopped
  • 3 bunches kale or collards, trimmed and chopped
  • 1 to 2 bunches chives, snipped
  • 1 large bunch parsley, stemmed and chopped
  • 1 Tbsp sea salt (more to taste)
  • 3 medium potatoes (Yukon gold or similar)
  • 2 large onions
  • olive oil
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • cayenne
  • juice of 1 to 2 lemons

Combine greens, chives, and parsley in a large soup pot with 3 cups stock and salt. Scrub the potatoes, cut into small pieces, and add them to the pot. Bring to a boil, turn down to low, cover the pot, and let the soup simmer for about half an hour.

Meanwhile, chop the onions, heat a 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in a skillet, and cook the onions until golden brown and soft. Don’t hurry them; this should take about half an hour. 

Add the caramelized onion to the soup. Put a bit more oil in the skillet and saute the garlic in it for just a couple of minutes, until fragrant. Add the garlic to the soup pot and simmer the soup for 10 minutes more.

Add remaining chicken stock and puree the soup in a blender, in batches, or use an immersion blender. Blend just until it looks smooth; potatoes can turn gummy if you process them too much.

Return the soup to the pot, bring it back to a simmer, and taste. Add a pinch more salt if needed, grind in some black pepper, and add a pinch of cayenne and lemon juice. Stir well and taste again. Correct the seasoning to your taste with more lemon juice or salt or cayenne.

Serve some immediately, garnished with a drizzle of fruity olive oil.

Freeze the rest and hope it lasts till fresh greens hit the farmers’ markets again.

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*so named because as much as I like to be snide about “superfoods” this soup is packed with bone broth and all the greens and will totally help you through the dark times.

because butter is delicious, rough puff ratio

Several triangular turnovers on a baking sheet

I love ratios. I love butter. So I love that “rough” or “blitz” puff pastry is one part butter to one part flour. Add a bit of cold water and patience and you have a delicious canvas for some easy treats. (Treats such are free form tarts, fruit turnovers, cheese straws, …)

Rough Puff…

  • 12 oz flour (mostly All Purpose, but add up 2oz other flours for interest)
  • 12 oz cold butter, cut into slices
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 6 oz ice water

Whisk together the flour and salt, then cut in the butter. (I do this by cutting the butter into slices, then working them in with my fingers. A pastry cutter or two knives would also be useful. It can be done in a stand mixer if you’re careful to stop while hunks of butter are still visible.) Stop when the butter is incorporated in large pieces, but pea-sized bits are still visible. Add the ice water and, using a spatula or bowl scraper, mix it in gently, flattening the mixture against the sides of the bowl when stirring, rather than mixing aggressively. The desired result is a very shaggy mass than doesn’t yet look like dough.

Dump the shaggy mass on a clean, dry counter and flatten it into a rectangle. Using a bench scraper or spatula, fold the rectangle into thirds. Rotate it 90 degrees, dust with flour and use a rolling pin to make it back into a rectangle again. Fold it into thirds, rotate it 90 degrees, and repeat. Keep doing this until it comes together as a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least an hour. Roll and fold two more times and declare it done.

To use: Roll to ~1/8 in thick. Use in any puff pastry recipe. (Like blackberry turnovers!)

(Relatively) Quick Posole

Child the younger remains a very particular, if quirky, eater. One of his New Year’s resolutions was to try more things, which we’re doing our best to support. Wish us luck.

In the meantime, one of the things he’ll eat is Posole, if it’s Posole from the Nellie’s Oyster stand at one of the Santa Rosa Farmers’ Markets. Since we live in Massachusetts most of the time, this preference is a teeny bit limiting, so I decided to attempt it myself.

I knew the preferred version was chicken-based, not fancy, and not too terribly spicy*. After reading through a number of online recipes, I ended up with the following, which was deemed acceptable once he added lemon juice.** It’s basically chicken soup, with Mexican influenced spicing and no vegetables. Perhaps it’s not so surprising he likes this after all.

Makes 6 to 8 servings
  • ~1 tablespoon olive oil (or other neutral oil)
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon dried ground ancho chili
  • 1/2 teaspoon coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds boneless skinless chicken breasts or thighs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano (or 1 tsp fresh)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 to 3 cups hominy, drained and rinsed

Toppings, use whatever and however many you like:

  • Lime wedges (or Lemon, if you’re like my kid)
  • Diced avocado
  • Diced onion
  • Shredded lettuce or cabbage
  • Diced tomatoes
  • Diced sweet peppers
  • Diced hot peppers
  • Chopped fresh oregano
  • Hot sauce

In a large saucepan, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the garlic and spices and heat just until aromatic, then add the chicken pieces and cook 1-2 minutes. Flip the chicken and add the herbs, then the stock and about 1 tsp of salt. Stir to make sure nothing is stuck on the bottom of pan and bring to a simmer. Cook at a simmer until the chicken is cooked through and can be pierced easily with a fork, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove the chicken, place in a medium-sized bowl and shred with two forks, then return the shreds to the pot. Add hominy. Taste and add more salt if desired. Simmer another 5 minutes. Serve with toppings.

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*Just spicy enough for a “belly warmer”, as his Grandma would say.

**Yes. Lemon, not lime. I just don’t understand this kid.

The Scones I Make the Most, Finally

Way back when, I posted the scones I think almost anyone should make and the scones I love the most. I managed to never get around to posting the scones I actually make the most, however, at least until now. Why do I make these the most? They’re sturdy and delicious and easy to modify. They also happen to be my spouse’s favorite, which counts for a lot.

First, a few notes about scones in general:

  • If you’re a person (and you know people) who at least occasionally eats white flour, sugar, and dairy fat, scones are an awesome thing to bake! They can make any morning or teatime feel just a little bit special.
  • Please don’t skimp on the fat though. Substituting half and half for cream just won’t result in the same (light, tender) scones.
  • Scone dough is even better if you make it ahead of time. Mix and shape some in the evening, then wrap and put it in the fridge. The next morning all you’ll need to do is turn on the oven and place the scones on a pan. (O.K. you’ll also need to brush them with cream/butter/egg and sprinkle with sugar, but that’s easy too.)
  • Scone dough also freezes really well. Mix and shape it, then double wrap in plastic and throw it in the freezer. You can bake the scones from frozen dough, just budget a couple extra minutes baking time.
  • The base recipes are pretty infinitely variable. I use this one to make rose/almond scones for May Day, my favorite candied ginger & cocoa nibs combo, and just about any kind of berry.
  • You can also make these into savory scones – just leave out the sugar and sub in some fine grated cheese and spices or herbs. (The result is pretty much that same as a biscuit, but nonetheless delicious.)
  • A cheap, plastic bowl scraper is far and away my favorite tool for mixing scone dough (and pie dough, and…). You can use it to cut and fold in the cream while not losing any tender, flaky goodness in your resulting scones. (A bench scraper is my favorite tool for shaping and cutting them.)

Go-To Cream Scones

  • 10 oz. (2 cups) flour
  • 2.5 oz. (1/3 cup) sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/3 cup butter, cold, cut in ~10 slices or cubes
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup dried fruit or other additions (e.g. 1/4 cup candied ginger and 2 Tbsp cocoa nibs)
  • 5/8 c (10 Tbsp) heavy cream
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp vanilla (or a different extract for other flavor combinations)
  • ~2 Tbsp melted butter or cream for brushing the tops, optional
  • coarse sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 375ºF. Line a sheet pan with parchment or a silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Cut in the cold butter, using your favorite method (your fingers, a pastry cutter, two knives…). Toss in the dried fruit or other additions.

In a separate vessel (like a liquid measuring cup), whisk together the cream, egg, and vanilla. Pour the liquid, all at once, into the flour mixture. Cut and fold the liquid and flour mix together using a bowl scraper or stiff spatula. Mix until the dough just comes together, leaving it very shaggy.

Turn the dough out onto a clean surface. Fold and gently shape it until it forms a cohesive round disk, about 3/4in thick (make two rounds if you’d like smaller scones). Cut each disk into 8 to 12 wedges. 

Place the wedges on your prepared sheet pan. Brush with cream or butter and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake 15-20 minutes, until golden brown.

An Inperfect Cookbook & Chocolate Mistake Cake

a square of chocolate cake topped with powdered sugar and whipped cream on a white plate

The cookbook for March’s Cookbook Club was Twelve Recipes, by Cal Peternell. I nominated this book. I voted for it. I already had in on my shelf (and had already read about a quarter of it). I wanted to love this book, and I almost do.

Twelve Recipes is written as a chef’s attempt to arm his kids with what they need to know about cooking as they go off into the world*. It’s conversational, working its way through basic concepts and the riffs on them that can turn into a full repertoire for feeding yourself and others. It’s exactly the kind of book I want to hand my kids in a decade, when they’re heading out of the house. It’s also imperfect.

At times the imperfections are small, the author’s voice strays a bit from “deservedly opinionated food professional with a great palate” and into the realm of “Northern California resident with year-round easy access to great ingredients who is assuming everyone else has that access too”.** What really strikes me as a problem, however, is the Cake chapter.*** For our cookbook club meeting, two sets of people, both of which included pretty experienced cooks, tried the “Chocolate Mistake Cake” and had it result in disaster.**** Someone else in the club made the Carrot Cake and discovered its proportions are simply all wrong. It appears that no one actually tested these recipes and that the author himself does not know them as well as the savory side.

Twelve Recipes did inspire me to do more and better with pasta nights***** as well as to go back to making my own croutons, but ultimately, it’s not a book I want to hand to my friends, at least not without some major caveats.

After the meeting, I just had to figure out what the heck was up with that Chocolate Mistake Cake recipe. Close reading the recipe made me question two things quickly. First, did he simply forget to mention it should be in two pans rather than one? The volume of ingredients is about what is generally called for to make two 9 inch round layers. Second, why 2 tsp of baking soda? 2 tsp is a lot of baking soda for 2 cups of flour, even given that there’s some yogurt and brown sugar in the mix. Both the trial cakes had more-or-less erupted in the oven, so it seemed a good guess that there might be something off about the leavening. Some brief internet research told me that the “mistake” part of the name generally referred to recipes which had chocolate added when there was already cocoa (or the reverse), so the volume or soda bit might be actual mistakes.

With a few tweaks, I made it. I couldn’t resist. As it turns out, this is a one bowl, one whisk, pretty easy recipe for delicious chocolate cake. Here’s how it worked:

Chocolate Mistake Cake (adapted from Cal Peternell’s Twelve Recipes)

  • ½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1 ½ cups boiling water, divided
  • 8 tablespoons butter, room temperature
  • 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (or ~3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chips)
  • 2 ½ cups brown sugar, lightly packed
  • ½ cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda powder
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 13×9 inch pan or two 9-inch round pans.

Place the cocoa powder in a large mixing bowl and add 1/2 cup of the boiling water******. Whisk until smooth. Cut the stick of butter into chunks and add it and the bittersweet chocolate to the bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup boiling water and let sit for a minute, then whisk until smooth. Next whisk in the brown sugar, yogurt and vanilla, then the eggs, one at a time, whisking after each addition. Next add the flour, baking powder, and salt in two additions. (To be certain the baking powder is mixed in evenly, you can whisk these dry ingredients together in a separate bowl before adding them. If you like living dangerously and want to only use one bowl, just be sure the baking powder is well incorporated.) Pour in prepared pan(s) and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until the center springs back when you touch it lightly with a finger.

Serve dusted with powdered sugar, with a side of whipped cream, or ice cream, or frost if you like.


*His kids clearly already have the basics. He’s working to fill in the details of how to think through a recipe and a meal and how to improvise.

**See, for example, his “frugal” choice of grating cheese for pasta – “Grano Padano”. This is someone who probably lives walking distance from the Cheese Board.

***Yes, I know, my pastry bias is showing, but really! savory cooks should take pastry seriously.

****In one case, a disaster complete with actual billowing smoke.

*****incorporating the sauce before serving, using the pasta water, thinking more about my basic sauces, etc.

******this wasn’t in the original recipe, but is a great technique for getting the most flavor out of your cocoa powder, and since there was boiling water in the recipe already, I added it.